How the FairBreak Invitational nailed it and how they can improve
Jay covers three talking points from the FairBreak Invitational and how it can improve ahead of the next edition
Back when I used to travel around the world to watch associate cricket, before streaming went mainstream, I never thought this would be possible.
The recently concluded FairBreak Invitational — a tournament that featured 90 female cricketers from 35 different nations — was broadcast in more than 140 countries and territories.
Let those numbers sink in for a second.
Here are three talking points from FBI 22 — the single most global tournament in the history of the sport.
Equality through opportunity
Can you imagine FBI 22 without Winifred Duraisingam or Sita Rana Magar? Can you imagine me asking you this question before the start of the tournament?
The Invitational proved what is possible when players from associate nations are given the same platform as full member players. Many of the associate players that featured were testing themselves against the toughest competition they’d ever faced. Many of them had more than a decade’s worth of international experience. Many of them are pioneering the women’s game in their respective countries.
And all of them deserved the opportunity to earn a living from a sport they’re remarkably good at when you consider how the custodians of the sport have failed in their duty toward growth and inclusivity.
Associate players didn’t just share dressing rooms, facilities, and hotel rooms with full member players, they were part of a professionally run tournament. A good number of players faced regular media interactions and press conferences for the first time in their careers. The broadcast was exactly what you’d expect from a global tournament, featuring eye-catching yet simple graphics and commentators well versed in the women’s game.
Moreover, FairBreak Global founder Shaun Martyn’s heart appears to be in the right place. It’s highly unlikely that he strays from his emphasis on providing opportunities for female cricketers across the world, especially in associate nations.
Why associate bowlers did better than batters
The FairBreak Invitational was more than just a series of feel-good, inspiring stories. It featured a high standard of cricket, and associate nation cricketers played a big part in this.
Five of the top 15 wicket-takers were from associate nations. More encouragingly, out of all bowlers to have delivered at least five overs in the tournament, four out of the top ten economy rates belonged to associate players Shizuka Miyaji, Henriette Ishimwe, Nattaya Boochatham, and Kary Chan.
Indeed, a bowling core comprised of Duraisingam, Sita Rana Magar, and Thailand’s Chanida Sutthiruang is a big reason why the Tornadoes won the Invitational.
However, it was a different story for associate batters. Only two out of the top 15 run-scorers were from associate nations. So, why was there such a gulf between full member and associate batters?
In a lot of cases, associate batters were batting outside of their favoured positions. In their first few games, the Warriors utilized UAE opener Esha Oza in the late middle order. The Sapphires’ Kary Chan never batted above five, whereas she thrives at number four for Hong Kong. Yasmeen Khan and Kathryn Bryce, also of the Warriors, were primarily used in the late middle order.
When you have players from 35 countries on show, it is hard for a captain to know a lot about each of the players under their charge. As a captain, if you throw the ball to a bowler who leaks runs, they can be taken out of the attack. Yet, there is a fear that if you send in a batter that you barely know anything about and they go on to play out a maiden, it can drain the momentum out of your innings.
Another reason for the gulf between associate batters and full member batters is their access to professional environments and regular fixtures. Full member players, on average, play more games than their associate counterparts. For many full member athletes, playing cricket is their full-time job, which means that they simply hit more balls and enjoy a dedicated weekly schedule of training and strength and conditioning.
When we spoke to Nepal’s Sita Rana Magar (for an interview that will be out on AllOverCric.Com in a few days from now) she talked about how Full Member batters often have specialized training sessions. Monday could be power-hitting day, Wednesday could be strike rotation, and Thursday could be ‘surviving the new ball’ day. In between all of this, cardio, strength training, and appointments with nutritionists and sports therapists can give them the physiological tools they need to hit the ball further.
With associate batters, who often have to juggle cricket with their full-time jobs, they don’t have the luxury of such specialized training, having to squeeze all of it into one training session.
In spite of this, however, several players showed marked improvements as the tournament went on.
After a scratchy start with the bat, Hong Kong’s Mariko Hill ended her tournament scoring 21 and 30* not out against the Tornadoes. The latter was a mature innings in the high-pressure final, where she supported Marizanne Kapp in a 92-run partnership.
Two games after labouring to 8 off 22 balls on FBI debut, Kavisha Kumari struck 43 off 42 in a 116-run partnership with Deandra Dottin, which allowed the Barmy Army to gun down 151 against eventual champions the Tornadoes.
After her well-publicized struggles with the gloves in the early stages of the Invitational, Babette de Leede bounced back in emphatic fashion. Remarkably, she affected five stumpings in the Sapphires’ final group game against the Falcons. Earlier in the game, she’d scored 45 — her highest score of the tournament — batting at number three to propel her team to 152.
The lesson here is simple: The more opportunities you provide to associate nation players, the more the gulf between them and the world’s leading players will shrink.
How to make FBI 23 even better
You have to feel for Cricket Hong Kong. Due to some of the world’s harshest COVID restrictions and travel curbs, this year’s tournament was shifted out of Hong Kong and hosted in Dubai. Soon after the conclusion of FBI 22, CHK and FairBreak Global announced that the next edition of the Invitational would be staged in Hong Kong. There is a fair chance it will stay that way as the Hong Kong government has finally begun to chart a path toward living with COVID-19.
Unlike Dubai, there won’t be empty stands at either the Kowloon Cricket Club or the Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground, the two potential venues for the tournament that have smaller dimensions than the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. There will be more of a community feel at the games in addition to a better aesthetic for viewers at home.
A major issue I have with T20 leagues is that quite often the teams just seem like a random hodgepodge of names. In the absence of geographical loyalties, I’d certainly like to see a degree of continuity in each of the squads. It’ll help fans pick a side and stick to it. This fandom and the friendly enmity between groups of supporters will add to the allure of the tournament.
Yet, I’d also like to see players who didn’t get much of an opportunity being moved to other teams. The Spirit’s Betty Chan and Barmy Army duo Rubina Chhetry and Ruchi Venkatesh immediately come to mind. While Tornadoes fans will probably click away after reading this, I’d love to see Sita Rana Magar play for another team that utilizes her skills as a batter and not just her left-arm spin.
I’d also like to see two rule changes.
Firstly, I’d like to see a mandate requiring two out of team’s top four batters to come from associate nations. This will prevent a situation where the only batters getting a decent hit are those from full member nations.
It would also be great if only three bowlers could bowl a maximum of four overs. This would force teams to use at least six bowlers and prevent situations where the likes of Ruchi Venkatesh, Mariana Martinez, Laura Cardoso, and Iqra Sahar barely get to utilize their primary suit.
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It would also be great to see other associate stars that weren’t picked this year getting a go at FBI 23. Some of the many names I’d be looking for are Malaysian all-rounder Mas Elysa, Namibian off-spinner Victoria Hamunyela, Nepal seamer Kabita Kunwar, and Scotland off-spinner Kathryn Fraser.
As much as possible, it would be great if squads, fixtures, and broadcast details were announced at least a few weeks before the tournament instead of a few days before it.
Yet, to the credit of Shaun Martyn and the tournament organizers, they were able to shift an entire tournament out of one city and into another. At the end of the day, as a viewer, whatever country you were from, there was a way to tune into FBI 22. At the time of writing, the value and the details of FBI 22’s television deals are not known. Yet, even if the deals with some TV channels were not that lucrative, even if the broadcast was given away for free in some cases, the FairBreak Invitational stayed true to its promise of delivering a global and inclusive tournament.
That New Zealand legend Katey Martin wanted FBI 22 to be her final act in a storied career speaks volumes about how players have bought into the vision behind the FairBreak Invitational. Her camaraderie with Wini Duraisingam and Sita Rana Magar is one of the enduring symbols of a tournament that has the potential to disrupt women’s cricket.
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